December Gardening Topics
- 2022 Selecting and Caring for your Fresh Christmas Tree - David Hillock, Consumer
Selecting a fresh Christmas tree is important so that you can enjoy the tree longer and reduce the risk of a hazard.
Check for freshness by gently bending the needles on the tree. If the needles bend easily and don’t break then the tree is pretty fresh. Another way to check for freshness is to lift the tree several inches off the ground and then drop it on the stump end; if an abundance of outer green needles falls off, the tree is not very fresh. Of course, you can always visit a local “Choose & Cut” Christmas tree farm ensuring freshness of your tree.
Once you get your live tree home, it should be placed in water as soon as possible so it won’t dry out. If you purchase a tree from a retail store, cut one inch off the bottom of the trunk to create a fresh cut that will absorb water. A tree purchased from a Choose & Cut farm should be placed in water as soon as you get home. Do not let the stump dry out or you will have to make a fresh cut. A new tree will take up quite a bit of water the first few days so be sure to check the container or tree stand frequently and keep it full of water. Never let your tree get dry or it quickly becomes a hazard.
Oklahoma Grown Christmas Trees
The best way to ensure that you are getting a fresh Christmas tree is to buy one directly from one of the many Christmas tree farms in Oklahoma. Each one offers a different experience, but one that is always a fun and memorable one for the family. Some of the farms offer more than just Christmas trees – wreaths, garland, table decorations and gifts may be available too. To make the experience more memorable, some also offer free hot cider, hot chocolate, coloring books and candy canes as well as children’s activities.
The Oklahoma Christmas Tree Association web site provides a list of farms currently selling Christmas trees as well as other information; currently there are 15 locations in 11 different counties. These Oklahoma grown trees are beautiful, fresh, green Christmas trees which were carefully planted and nurtured for years specifically for you this Christmas.
- Gravel Stabilizer - Casey Hentges, Associate Extension Specialist and Bailey Lockhart,
Walking in gravel can be tricky at times because it can feel like walking in shifting sand. A gravel stabilizer can make the area more stable and help prevent the gravel from eroding during rainstorms.
There are several different types and styles of this product on the market, and they vary depending on their use. Some are intended to be driven on and some are dependent on the size of gravel. There are square, hard plastic grids that interlock however, these can limit the flexibility of the outline if you want to incorporate curves into the design. Another option is an easy to install, woven fiber that expands to create a honeycomb shape. For this project you will need scissors and landscape staples/pins which can often be found at garden centers. The first step is to use landscape staples to anchor one side of the material. After securing the end, stretch it to the needed length and then place staples at the opposite end to hold it in place. Then trim with scissors any excess material. Do not trim the width until you have stretched it to the desired length as the width will shrink as it is pulled out. Being able to trim this material with scissors provides a lot of flexibility for creating different shapes with this material verses the plastic grids.
This material could be used as a single line to make a narrow walking path, or it can be laid side by side to create a stable floor. When placing several strips together, it is best to staple the two strips of the grid together to ensure a strong connection. Once the gravel stabilizer is laid out, don’t walk on it until it is filled with gravel. If laying a large area, it may be necessary to access the center, especially to staple the seams together. In which case, laying a wide board on the material will help disperse weight and not crush the grid. Another thing to ensure before filling the grid is to check that it is lying flat on the soil surface, to prevent gravel from filling underneath, causing the grid to lift. It may be necessary to add additional staples to secure the stabilizer to the soil surface. Next, fill the honeycomb with crushed gravel. It is best to start by putting gravel at each corner to prevent it from pulling out of position, and then fill in the entire area. Once it is filled, the woven honeycomb material practically disappears.
This provides is a more solid surface to walk on than just loose gravel that can shift or wash away. Be mindful of the gravel material used, the final look desired, whether the grid is seen or not, and the application needs, such as the weight capacity. All these are important factors to consider when choosing which product to use.
- Feeding Birds - David Hillock, Consumer Horticulturist
It’s time to remember our fine, feathered friends for the winter months. If you already have bird feeders, it’s a good time to clean them. Wash them in soapy water, then rinse in a 10% bleach solution and allow to dry completely.
It’s important to match your bird feeders to the type of bird you want to attract. Smaller birds such as chickadee, tufted titmouse, and finches prefer the tube feeders. Larger birds such as cardinals and blue jays prefer hopper or platform feeders, and birds such as the morning dove eat seed on the ground. Just as people prefer different types of food, birds prefer different types of food. Thistle and black oil sunflowers are good for smaller birds, cardinals like sunflowers of all types and millet is good for ground feeding birds. A good general bird feeding mix is white proso millet and black oil sunflower. Suet is good for woodpeckers and nuthatches.
Water is also an important feature, not only for the birds to drink, but also to keep them clean as clean feathers insulate better from the cold weather. If you have a birdbath heater, be sure that it will shut off automatically when the water reaches about 40o F, so it doesn’t get too warm. It is also important to keep the water and the birdbath clean. For more information on attracting birds to the landscape see the OSU Extension Fact Sheet HLA-6435 Landscaping and Gardening for Birds.
- Tool Cleanup and Sharpening - David Hillock, Consumer Horticulturist
This is a good time to clean and sharpen tools before storing them for the winter. A little time now will ensure that they are ready to go as soon as it warms up in the spring. Shovels and hoes can be cleaned, sharpened at a 45-70-degree angle and coated with oil to prevent rust. If the tool has a wooden handle, it can be coated with a layer of boiled linseed oil to keep it weatherproof. Tools such as pruners, loppers and saws should be sharpened professionally unless you have the proper equipment to sharpen them.
As mowers are put away for the season, one of the more important maintenance practices suggested is to sharpen that blade! Studies have shown that some of the problems with weakened lawns may not be due to environmental stresses but can be directly linked with failure to keep the mower blade sharp. A dull mower blade rips the grass, instead of cutting it cleanly. The ripping action makes a long, slow healing wound that makes disease invasion more pervasive. It can also lead to extensive tip dieback of the grass blade itself that reduces the effective photosynthetic area left to the grass following a cut.
Mower blades should be sharpened on a regular basis, and there is no better time to do it than as that mower is stored for the winter. This ensures that the first cut is a good “sharp” one!
- Poinsettia Care - David Hillock, Consumer Horticulturist
Newer cultivars of poinsettia, in addition to being very showy, have excellent keeping quality and stronger stems than older cultivars. When buying your poinsettia, choose a plant with well-expanded, well-colored bracts. Foliage should be medium to dark green with uniform coloring. Flowers should be present in the center of the bracts.
After you purchase your plant, do not expose it to chilling temperatures or cold drafts of air. If the temperature outdoors is below 50°F do not carry an unwrapped plant from the retail shop to your car. In the home or other place of display, avoid cold drafts and excessive heat from heating ducts, TV sets or large incandescent lamps. Temperatures of 70°F or below (down to 55°F) are desirable to retain best bract color. Large plants can be placed on the floor if light is adequate.
Light plays an important role in retention of leaves on the plant. Place the plant in an area where it receives at least six to eight hours of direct natural or artificial light. A minimum of 75 foot candles is desirable where possible. This would be similar to the minimum light intensity required for good desk lighting in an office. Incandescent lights such as those found in most homes will give a truer, brighter bract color than most types of fluorescent light.
Poinsettias can be displayed with other houseplants. The adjacent plants raise the humidity and allow poinsettias to last longer. Also, the regular houseplants can be spruced up for the holidays.
Many commercial growers use non-soil mixes of sphagnum peat, pine bark, vermiculite, perlite, or similar ingredients. When plants are grown in such non-soil mixes, it is sometimes difficult to decide when the plant needs water. If there is no heavy component (sand or soil) in the mix and a plastic pot is used, the pot can be lifted to determine its weight. If the plant is heavy, there is usually plenty of moisture in the pot; if it is lightweight, the medium is dry and a thorough watering should be given. Moisture needs can also be assessed by feeling the growing medium in the pot. Water when the top of the growing medium is starting to feel dry, but do not allow too much drying. Slight wilting of the plant is not harmful, but avoid severe wilting, which will cause leaves to drop.
Water the plant thoroughly. Make sure a small amount of water drips through the drainage holes of the container. If the plant is wrapped with decorative foil, punch a hole in the foil beneath the pot to allow excess water to escape. The plant should be placed on a saucer to prevent damage to the furniture or carpet.
Do not water the plant too frequently when the soil or growing mix is already wet or this may result in roots suffocating from lack of oxygen, causing the leaves to wilt, yellow, and drop.
Recent research has shown that poinsettias are not poisonous, but the plants are intended solely for ornamental purposes. Some people are allergic to the milky sap and may develop a rash when exposed to the sap. Avoid breaking the leaves and stems, as this will release the sap. It is wise to keep any houseplant out of the reach of small children and pets.
- Christmas Cactus - David Hillock, Consumer Horticulturist
Next to poinsettias the Christmas cactus can be a popular houseplant for the holidays. In general they are easy to grow and can live for a long time with the proper care. Native to the tropics they are used to growing in the canopies of trees and receiving moderate amounts of moisture. Thus, a medium light intensity and a soil high in organic matter are suggested. Do not allow the plant to dry out, water when the soil surface begins to feel dry. The plant may be kept drier in autumn. Any houseplant fertilizer may be used according to label directions.
Like poinsettias they have special requirements to get them to bloom. Cool temperatures or long nights are required to induce blooming. The plants bloom when given night temperatures near 55 degrees and day temperatures below 65 degrees. Plants will not flower at temperatures above 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Flowering is related to day length and night temperatures. No research has supported the rumor that a “dry down” period induces flowering. The temperature range for flower bud development is 55 to 65 degrees for a six-week period. If temperatures remain in this range, they will develop buds regardless of day length. If temperatures get above that range, the plant will need at least 12 to 14 hours of uninterrupted darkness each night. This can be done by placing them in a completely dark room, or covering them for the recommended time, or longer, each night with a dark piece of cloth. Or just keep the plants in total darkness like a closet till buds develop. For holiday blooms this usually means in late September to mid-October.
During flower bud formation, stop fertilizing and only water enough to keep the leaves from becoming shriveled. Once buds do form then you can keep the plant in normal light and temperatures. Keep it evenly moist and fertilize every other week with a diluted fertilizer solution. Bud drop may occur due to over or under watering or being placed in drafty areas.
A Christmas cactus plant will live for a long time in the same pot if proper soil was used originally and if the plant is fertilized and watered regularly. If the plant becomes top-heavy or root bound, move it to a larger pot.
The ideal schedule of a Christmas Cactus:
- January - Flowering.
- February to March - Resting (55 degrees, infrequent watering).
- April to May - Water thoroughly when potting mix begins to dry out.
- June to August - Place outdoors in a shady spot.
- September to October - Plant prepares to flower. Reduce length daylight hours. Keep on the dry side and cool (55 to 65 degrees F) until flower buds form. Then increase water and temperature.
- November to December - Flowering. Water normally. Temperature no less than 55 degrees F.
- Narcissus - David Hillock, Consumer Horticulturist
Paper white narcissus can add some bloom to the dreary winter days. The bulbs are some of the easiest for forcing as they do not require any chilling before they will bloom. Supplies needed include a low, flat container without drain holes that is anywhere from 3 to 5 inches deep, some gravel – ½ inch or less in diameter, bulbs, activated charcoal and water. Place the gravel in the bottom of the container filling to ½ to ¾ full. A little bit of charcoal can be added to keep the water from stagnating. Place the bulbs on top of the gravel so they are close to each other but not touching. Fill in around the bulbs with gravel so that the bottom ½ to 1/3 of the bulb is covered and then fill the container with water so that the water level is just below the bottom of the bulb. If the bulbs sit in the water, they will start to rot. Do not let the container run dry after root growth has begun as the roots will die if they are allowed to dry out. Place the container in a cool, dark place for about 3 weeks to get good root growth and then move it into an area with brighter light so the tops can grow. Turn the container daily so that the leaves do not have to stretch towards the light. When the paper whites start to bloom, move them to an area with filtered light so the blooms will last longer. This whole process takes about 6 weeks. Potting up a succession of bulbs every 2 weeks will insure bloom throughout the winter months.
- Houseplants in Winter- David Hillock, Consumer Horticulturist
During the winter months our attention often turns to plants growing indoors. Like most plants outdoors, many plants indoors also go into a rest stage. This rest stage usually shows up as reduced growth and in some cases the loss of some leaves. This rest stage is a result of the shorter days and reduced light levels inside the home.
During this period plants won’t need too much water and little to no fertilizer. When a plant seems to be struggling most people tend to add more water or fertilizer, but this could lead to further problems. Unless your plants are growing under near greenhouse conditions, water only when the top ½ inch of potting soil is dry and avoid adding fertilizer.
Another problem that arises during the winter months is exposure to cold drafts or the dry, blasting air from the heater. Humidity can also be lower. To avoid these problems, locate plants away from doorways or the heater registers. Plants grow best at temperatures between 65o F to 75o F and a humidity of 50 to 60 percent. Temperatures are usually easier to control, but controlling humidity is more challenging. Humidity levels of 50 to 60 percent are higher than what most people like. Control humidity with a humidifier. A transparent polyethylene bag can be draped over plants that are extremely humidity sensitive or are in poor condition.
This is also a good time to see if plants are root-bound too. If they are root-bound, plant them in a pot that is only 1 to 2 inches larger in diameter than the pot in which the plant is currently growing.
- Deicing Effects on Landscape Plants - David Hillock, Consumer Horticulturist
Cold temperatures usually bring ice and snow making it difficult to travel for both motorists and pedestrians. Public safety during this time is a high priority and usually addressed using deicing compounds. While these deicing compounds make it safer for us, they often damage concrete surfaces, automobiles, and landscape plants.
There are several deicing compounds, each with pros and cons.
Sodium chloride (NaCl) is the most common and known as table or rock salt. It is the least expensive, most widely used and is most effective when temperatures are above 15°F. Unfortunately, sodium chloride is very corrosive and damaging to landscape plants and excessive sodium in the soil can destroy its structure.
Calcium chloride (CaCl2) dissolves readily, acts quickly and is effective in very cold temperatures - down to -20°F. It is, however, highly corrosive to concrete and metals, but slightly less damaging to plants than sodium chloride.
Potassium chloride (KCl) is a natural material used for fertilizer but is highly corrosive as a deicer. It is less damaging than sodium chloride to plants.
Calcium magnesium acetate (CMA) is an environmentally friendly compound derived from dolomitic limestone and acetic acid. CMA is considered safer for plant material, non-corrosive to concrete surfaces and biodegradable. It is also effective at melting ice to around 15°F. The downside, it is 30 to 40 times more expensive.
Deicing materials are salts that melt ice, creating a brine solution (salty water) which freeze at lower temperatures. The problem in the landscape occurs when this brine solution is splashed onto plant foliage or runs off pavement into the soil. An accumulation in the soil near plant roots results in damage to the plants. Plants suffer a salt-induced water shortage, even though there may be moisture in the soil, because roots are unable to absorb sufficient water.
To minimize damage by deicing materials in the landscape consider the following approaches:
- Mechanical removal – the less ice and snow present, the less deicing material needed
- Use abrasive materials in conjunction with mechanical and/or deicing materials – abrasives such as sand have few impacts on the environment. They do not melt ice but do improve traction on slippery surfaces.
- Plan ahead – plant salt tolerant plants in areas receiving large amounts of deicing material; locate salt sensitive plants away from areas deicing materials are used; use hardscapes (gutters, barriers) to channel runoff away from planting areas; do not pile snow containing deicing materials onto planting areas; and irrigate once heavily in the spring to leach salts away from root zone.
- 2023 Pecan Graftwood Collection and Source List Updates - Becky Carroll, Associate
Extension Specialist, Fruit and Pecans
Using quality graftwood is key to successful grafting. If using cold-damaged or improperly stored wood for propagation, things will be much more difficult. Although grafting is done in late April through May, graft wood should be collected when fully dormant. Wood can be cut from Mid-December to early March, but January is the optimum time for collection to avoid fluctuating temperatures in the spring.
One-year old vigorous wood from known cultivars work well for most grafts and some budding. Collecting various sizes will help match with different techniques. Collecting from young trees requiring pruning, or from high in treetops will provide the best vigorous growth to use for propagation wood. On large older trees, removing a large limb may encourage new vigorous growth that will be well suited for grafting. This fact sheet gives instructions on proper collection and storage for propagation wood.
To be able to find the cultivars that growers need, ordering from a supplier may be necessary. Getting their order in early will help the supplier to know what inventory they will need to collect and what types of cultivars are wanted. Sometimes they can collect other cultivars not listed if contacted early.
Here is a link to the updated 2023 graftwood source list. If you know of others that would like to be added to the list, please email Becky Carroll.
Pawnee graftwood collected and ready for storage.
- 2023 Pecan Management Class Enrollment - Becky Carroll, Associate Extension Specialist,
Fruit and Pecans
The 2023 Pecan Management Course signups have begun.
Check out the 2023 Pecan Management on-line brochure. With expert speakers from OSU, the Noble Research Institute, and the pecan industry, class members get a well-rounded program of presentations and hands on activities.
The courses are scheduled so that management items can be addressed each month at the appropriate times. Class members can learn about growing pecan rootstock trees or grafting by participating in the process. Cimarron Valley Research Station personnel demonstrate equipment and share management techniques that are used at the site. Students learn about everything from business management to pest control to cultivar selection. Those class members with good attendance will receive a certificate of completion.
The fee for the 7-month course is $250 per person. The classes meet north of Perkins at the research station once a month from February 28 through October for pecan, except for June when participants are encouraged to attend the annual Oklahoma Pecan Growers’ Association meeting. The meeting times are on Tuesday afternoons from 1-5pm. The May meeting will begin at 10am to allow for extra grafting practice time. County extension educators are welcome to attend the course for in-service credit and at reduced cost.
The 2023 pecan class will begin on February 28. Deadline for registration is February 17. Class size is limited to 35 students. If you would like to enroll in the class or know someone that would benefit from brushing up their management skills, please have them access the brochure and on-line registration. If you have other questions concerning the class, please contact Becky Carroll.
The 2022 Pecan Management Class.
- On-line Market Gardening Courses Available - Lynn Brandenberger, Extension Vegetable
People have a great opportunity to learn not only about how to produce fresh fruits and vegetables, but how to sustainably manage soils to make that happen. Both urban and small rural farms are continuing to increase in number to provide fresh produce for direct sales to the public. Courses are targeted at those that have a desire to develop small commercial farms that concentrate on fruit and vegetable crops. Even those that have no desire to commercially farm will benefit from these on-line courses because the courses provide in-depth information about fruit and vegetable production. The soil course includes information about the physical, chemical, and biological aspects of soil management along with how to manage soil fertility during crop production. There are two courses on vegetable crops, one on cool-season and one on warm-season crops. In all they cover eleven different groups of vegetable crops. Soon there will be three courses on fruit crops including tree fruits, small fruits, and strawberries within these there are twelve different crops that are covered. Future courses that are planned include: Irrigation, Season Extension, Food Safety, Resource Management, and Marketing.
If you are interested in learning more, check out the Learn Extension Website. Current courses available are:
- Market Gardening 1: Soil Management
- Market Gardening 2: Cool-season Vegetable Production
- Market Gardening 3: Warm-season Vegetable Production
Courses are FREE to County Extension Educators and available to the public at a cost of $20 per course.
- Horticulture Tips - 2022 Index
- Ajuga – 04/2022
- Another Tough Year for Pecan Growers – 11/2022
- Applying Dormant Oils for Winter Insect Control – 2/2022
- Bagworms – 07/2022
- Being Earth-Friendly – 09/2022
- Brown Patch Disease of Cool-Season Grasses – 07/2022
- Christmas Cactus – 12/2022
- Collecting Leaf Samples to Plan Fertilizer Applications in Fruit and Pecan Crops – 7/2022
- Control Peach and Nectarine Leaf Curl Now! – 03/2022
- Controlling Broadleaf Winter Weeds in Home Lawns – 11/2022
- Controlling Caterpillar Pests – 05/2022
- Controlling Deer Damage – 11/2022
- Controlling Winter Annual Weeds in Turf – 08/2022
- Cool-season Lawn Planting and Renovation – 09/2022
- Crop Rotation – An Effective Management Tool – 05/2022
- Deadheading! – 06/2022
- Deicing Effects on Landscape Plants – 12/2022
- Dividing and Replanting Iris – 07/2022
- Dividing Perennials – 08/2022
- Don’t Cut Back Spring Flowering Bulbs Too Early! – 04/2022
- Double Peaches and Nectarines? – 05/2022
- Fall Cleanup – 11/2022
- Fall is for Planting Trees and Shrubs – 09/2022
- Fall – A Good Time to Control Broadleaf Weeds – 10/2022
- Feeding Birds – 12/2022
- Fennel – 05/2022
- Fertilizing Asparagus – 02/2022
- Fresh Spring Vegetables – 02/2022
- Garden Tips for February – 02/2022
- Garden Tips for March – 03/2022
- Garden Tips for April – 04/2022
- Garden Tips for May – 05/2022
- Garden Tips for June – 06/2022
- Garden Tips for July – 07/2022
- Garden Tips for August – 08/2022
- Garden Tips for September – 09/2022
- Garden Tips for October – 10/2022
- Garden Tips for November – 11/2022
- Garden Tips for December and January – 12/2022
- Gardening Over Lateral Lines (Septic Drain Fields) – 04/2022
- Gravel Stabilizer – 12/2022
- Growing in Raised Garden Beds – 05/2022
- Growing Seedlings – 03/2022
- Heuchera – 09/2022
- Houseplants in Winter – 12/2022
- House Plant Pest – 10/2022
- How Much Irrigation Water does a Peach Tree Need? – 08/2022
- Hydrangeas – 06/2022
- Injury Prevention Tips for Gardening – 07/2022
- Irrigation System Maintenance: Spring Start Up – 03/2022
- July Irrigation – 07/2022
- Low Chill Hours for 2022 – 04/2022
- Managing Turf in the Shade – 09/2022
- Mow at the Right Height – 06/2022
- Narcissus – 12/2022
- National Pesticide Information Center – 08/2022
- Oklahoma Proven Selections for 2022 – 02/2022
- Onion Care and Handling – 04/2022
- On-line Courses for Market Gardening – 05/2022
- Pecan Crop Load Thinning – 08/2022
- Pecan Graftwood Source List – 02/2022; 05/2022
- Plant Spring-flowering Bulbs Now! – 10/2022
- Planting Bare-Root Plants – 03/2022
- Planting Bare-Root Trees and Shrubs – 02/2022
- Poinsettia Care – 12/2022
- Post-harvest Vineyard Care – 10/2022
- Proper Pruners – 02/2022
- Protect Your Home from Wildfire with Firewise Plantings – 08/2022
- Pruning Hydrangeas – 04/2022
- Pruning Roses – 3/2022
- Pruning and Staking Tomatoes – 06/2022
- Raking Basics – 10/2022
- Resistance, our First Defense to Pests – 04/2022
- Right Plant, Right Place – 10/2022
- Season Extenders – 10/2022
- Selecting and Caring for your Fresh Christmas Tree – 12/2022
- Soil Testing…the Right First Step – 02/2022
- Squash Bug Management – 07/2022
- Starting Seeds Indoors – 02/2022
- Successful Fall Gardening Starts with Good Plant Establishment – 08/2022
- Summer is for Fall Harvest – 07/2022
- Terminating Cover Crops – 03/2022
- Tomato Cages – 04/2022
- Tomato Ripening and Holding – 09/2022
- Tool Cleanup and Sharpening – 12/2022
- Top 5 Columnar Trees – 11/2022
- Top Perennial Plants for the Shade – 09/02022
- Turfgrass Species for Oklahoma Lawns – 06/2022
- Using Bedding Plants in the Landscape! – 04/2022
- Vegetable Tapener – 07/2022
- Water Saving Tips – 05/2022
- Weed and Feed Products – 02/2022
- Winter Protection of Broadleaf Evergreens – 11/2022
- Yucca, Yucca, Yucca – 10/2022